Golden brown and ultra crackly—what more could you ask for?

Life is too short to rely solely on boneless, skinless chicken breast for a protein fix, and that is a fact. That’s why we’re not afraid to admit that we are no strangers to a good skin-on chicken thigh or drumstick. However, there’s a caveat to this lifestyle—if that skin around around said chicken leg or quarter is not crispy like a GD potato chip, then we’re simply uninterested. There we said it, and we mean it. If you’re going to stray from the ol’ salt & pepper, roasted chicken breast, then you better bring a mean, crunchy, salty skin along with it. The key to this ultra-crunchy nirvana is quite simple, and we’re so glad you asked.

First things first—you have to make sure that the chicken skin is patted as dry as a bone. Not to go all Bill Nye on you, but what we’re more or less doing here is carrying out the most effective Maillard reaction that we possibly can. AKA, dry poultry plus high temperatures along with the right combination of proteins and fats produce that uber-desirable crispy, golden skin with succulent meat inside. So, in order to get your chicken ADAP (as dry as possible…), use paper towels to blot it. If you’ve got the time and patience, you’ll be even better off it you generously salt the skin ahead of time and let it sit in your fridge for a couple hours or overnight. This allows the salt to draw out moisture from the skin while also creating a salty, dry brine. Don’t you love science?!

Ultimate Crispy Chicken Legs image
Ultimate Crispy Chicken Legs image
| Credit: Kelsey Hansen; Food Styling: Adam Hickman; Prop Styling: Sarah-Elizabeth Cleveland

Ultimate Crispy Chicken Legs image Photo: Kelsey Hansen; Food Styling: Adam Hickman; Prop Styling: Sarah-Elizabeth Cleveland

At this point, it’s time to add some cooking fat back into this situation. Rub your chicken with canola or extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle any desired spices that you like—salt and pepper is perfectly legitimate, but paprika, chili powder, onion powder, and garlic powder are easy adds, as well. Put your chicken, skin side down, on a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. You don’t want the heat to be too aggressively high, because a slightly lower temp is ideal to help render out some of that chicken fat.

An absolute must is NOT touching the chicken once it’s on the skillet. You’ll either rip the skin prematurely (sad!) or become too impatient and flip your chicken before it has reached its full, crispy potential (even sadder!). That means letting it sit there for anywhere from 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken. Do not even think about inching it around until it is so obviously browning and cracking, mmmkay? At this point, you’re good to flip your bird, and finish out the rest of the cooking (about 15 more minutes, or until it’s fully cooked through) in a 450° oven. Let it sit for another 5 minutes before rolling your sleeves back and chomping down on skin so crispy and crackly that your neighbors can hear you crunching from across the street.* This is not a time to dilly-dally—that crispy skin is only going to be this perfectly crunchy for so long. Now tell me, how much better is this than a baked chicken breast?

*We are not liable for any future noise complaints filed by disgruntled neighbors.

By Sara Tane and Sara Tane